The Temptations of Jesus
by John MacDuff, 1859
The Fiery Trial
"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness — to be tempted by the devil." Matthew 4:1
The covenant engagements into which Christ entered, when He undertook the work of redemption — embraced various particulars, upon the fulfillment of which, the whole undertaking depended. One of the chief was that He should assume our nature — become bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh; and after being found in fashion as a man, it was necessary for Him to endure the most extreme sufferings, as well as render stainless obedience to the requirements of that holy law which we had violated and dishonored.
In the accomplishment of this great work, our blessed Lord had much to contend with. He had to encounter the constant opposition of men; but he had other and far more formidable adversaries, who were bent upon frustrating the gracious purpose which He came from Heaven to fulfill. No sooner had He entered upon His public ministry, than He was attacked by the prince of darkness; and as such mighty issues were at stake, it cannot be uninteresting for us to contemplate the circumstances connected with that memorable struggle.
There is something particularly instructive in what is stated concerning the period when the great foe assaulted the Son of man. "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness — to be tempted of the devil." He had just been formally set apart for His glorious undertaking, on which occasion the most decisive tokens of the approbation of His heavenly Father were given Him. The heavens were opened; the Divine Spirit, descending like a dove, rested upon Him; and a voice from the excellent glory proclaimed, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!" Thus His baptism — was immediately followed by His temptation; that scene of honor — was followed by one of fiery trial and deep abasement.
We are here taught the important truth, that when any special favor has been conferred upon us from above — we should be prepared to expect more determined opposition from Satan than ordinary. It was so with the great Head, and such has been the case with the people of God in all ages.
There was Noah, a man of vigorous faith, a preacher of righteousness, whose light shone so brightly in the midst of a profane and scoffing generation. When was he tempted to the commission of that sin of drunkenness, which has been in every age the prolific source of innumerable evils? It was immediately after the signal proof he had received of the Lord's loving-kindness and tender mercy — a proof unexampled in all the annals of time; for while the devastating flood was brought upon the world of the ungodly, he and his household were preserved from so fearful a doom.
There was Lot, in like manner. When was he tempted to the combined crimes of drunkenness and incest? It was immediately after his escape from the shower of fire and brimstone which fell upon guilty Sodom.
When was David led to the commission of murder and adultery? It was just after his enemies were conquered on every side, and when peace was established throughout his dominions.
When was Hezekiah tempted to indulge in pride, and vain confidence, and presumptuous boasting? It was instantly after the miraculous deliverance he had received, by being restored from the borders of the grave, and whereby his days were lengthened for the period of fifteen years.
So with the apostle Paul. The messenger of Satan was sent to buffet him — but when? It was after he had been highly distinguished with visions and revelations from the Lord. These instances, and many others of a similar nature, justify us in adopting the language of John Newton, who observes, "There are critical times of danger to the people of God, and they are generally after any special service has been rendered, or any peculiar honor has been received. Satan is like a common pickpocket, who does not attack a man when going to the bank to receive money — but he watches for him when returning home with his pockets full!"
Of the devices of this artful foe, the Redeemer was well aware. Let us not be ignorant of his wiles — but seek to be ever on our guard, lest he should gain advantage over us. Many mighty ones has he overcome, turning their strength into weakness, and their beauty into deformity! And, if we are left to ourselves — we shall surely fall. Blessed Jesus! uphold us by Your own almighty power, and grant that in the evil day of trial and temptation, we may come off victorious.
The Tempter Foiled!
"The tempter came to him and said: If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread!
Jesus answered: It is written — Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God!" Matthew 4:3-4
While in the wilderness, the Savior fasted for the long space of forty days and forty nights. Such a period — almost six weeks — would have appeared to us an age of agony; and, unless divinely sustained, we could not possibly have endured such protracted abstinence. This is one of the many instances in which the example of our Lord soars far above all human imitation. For us to attempt such a thing — would be nothing less than a kind of sacred suicide; although superstition has before now urged its deluded votaries to do so, by seeking to induce them to resemble Him who is separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.
The first temptation with which Satan assailed the Redeemer was peculiarly suitable to the circumstances in which He was now placed. After His long fasting, He was oppressed with hunger — and the tempter suggested that He should convert some of the stones which were scattered about in that rocky and desolate region, into bread — for the purpose of accomplishing thereby two important objects; namely, the supply of His own pressing needs, and to afford a proof of His miraculous power as the Son of God.
The cunning craftiness of the great foe is to be seen in the construction of this temptation. It was so arranged that he seems to have imagined that he was sure of his victim either way, whether the request was complied with or refused. If the miracle be not wrought — how can He support His pretensions as the promised Messiah? While, on the other hand, if it is performed, and that at the suggestion of Satan — would He not betray His ignorance of the person who accosted Him, and the design he entertained? But, notwithstanding his artfulness, he was grievously mistaken; the wisdom of the serpent was turned into folly, and his counsel, like that of Ahitophel, was completely confounded!
The Savior's reply was exceedingly simple and appropriate. "It is written — Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God!"
The whole passage from which these words were taken, reads thus: "He humbled you, causing you to hunger — and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known — to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." Moses was appealing to the Israelites as witnesses of the power and faithfulness of God, who had supplied them with manna for forty years; and his object was to show that men are not dependent for their subsistence upon ordinary food exclusively — but upon whatever the Almighty may appoint.
When Christ, therefore, was requested to turn stones into bread, He implies, by adducing the above instance, that there was no occasion to have recourse to such an extraordinary expedient — inasmuch as God had other means for the support of His children. The chosen tribes were nourished by angel's food while wandering in a desolate land; and such was our Lord's assurance of the unlimited resources, and such was His confidence in the watchful care of His heavenly Father — that He would support Him, were it necessary, in a similar way. Thus it is "not by bread alone" that men live — but "by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God;" that is, through any other medium, or by means of any other substance — which He shall please to appoint, and to which He shall graciously add His blessing. In this temptation, the special object of Satan was to produce in the Savior's mind a spirit of distrust, and to lead Him to employ unauthorized means for His relief.
Perhaps you, reader, have been assailed by him in like manner, as has been the case with many, especially such as have been in straitened circumstances. But what precious promises are contained in God's word, which are intended to strengthen your heart, and by the belief of which you will be enabled to resist all the incitements of the evil one? Is it not written, "Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing!" Is it not written, "Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper!"
Whenever, therefore, the enemy attempts to assault your faith, let your language be, "Trust God, I ought — trust God, I will! Though He slays me — yet will I trust in Him!"
The Path of Duty
"Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 'If you are the Son of God,' he said, 'throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'
Jesus answered him, 'It is also written: You must not tempt the Lord your God!'" Matthew 4:5-7
When one method of temptation fails — then Satan tries another. He has many different arrows in his quiver — as the tempted saints of God know full well! And, in his attacks upon the Son of God, he showed that he was not lacking in varied expedients, if by any means he might gain advantage over him. Having been unsuccessful in attempting to generate a spirit of distrust — he was planning what could be done in connection with the opposite feeling of presumption.
The scene of this temptation was one of the pinnacles of the temple, probably that of Solomon's porch, which overlooked an immense precipice between six and seven hundred feet in depth. Speaking of this prodigious elevation, the Jewish historian says that no one could look down from it without becoming giddy. After having conducted the Savior to this solemn eminence, Satan made the impious proposal that, in order to prove his sonship, he should throw himself from the top to the bottom. "If you are the Son of God — throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone!"
Inasmuch as our Lord resisted the former proposal by quoting from the sacred writings, the cunning adversary seems to have thought that he could not do better than follow his example. But if we compare the original Old Testament passage — we find a material difference, in consequence of an important omission, one sentence being altogether left out. As recorded in the 91st Psalm, the words are, "If you make the Most High your dwelling — even the Lord, who is my refuge — then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to protect you in all your ways!"
God has promised to protect his people — but only while they are walking in his ways. The path of duty — is the path of safety. So, if we rush heedlessly into temptation — we cannot expect to be kept from evil. The inspired text can be thus twisted, and dragged in for a purpose altogether opposed to its express design — a practice in which the emissaries of the wicked one have largely indulged — wresting the scriptures unto their own destruction, as well as to the ruin of others.
But we may ask, Why did not Satan proceed with the quotation? For the next verse is, "You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!" Ah! he well knew that this would have touched himself, and so he wisely left it alone. It was a promise, however which was strikingly verified on this occasion; for did not Jesus tread triumphantly upon the old lion, and trample the great serpent under his feet!
As on the former occasion, the Savior's reply was pointed and appropriate, and was taken from the divine oracles. "It is also written: You must not tempt the Lord your God." He takes no notice of Satan's garbled quotation — but meets it at once by one that was accurate and honest; teaching us that however our enemies may misquote and misapply the word of God, this is no reason why we should give up appealing to it as our great standard on all occasions.
The confidence of Christ in his Father's protecting care was such, that he felt there was no necessity to put it to such a trial as this temptation implied. Be it yours, O my soul! to aspire after a similar spirit. While others tempt God, let it be your firm resolve to trust him — and then mercy shall compass you about. The promise is, "He shall call upon me, and I will answer him! I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him."
In every evil day, and under all distressing circumstances, would I call upon your blessed name, O Lord. And since you have never said to the seed of Jacob, Seek me in vain — I have abundant grounds for cherishing the sweet and supporting assurance, that you will be to me what you have been to all your people throughout successive generations — even their refuge and strength, and a very present help in every time of need!
The Impious Proposal!
"Jesus said to him: Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only!' Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended Him!" Matthew 4:10, 11
In his dealings with the Redeemer, the arch-enemy manifested an untiring energy and perseverance. The contrast between his unflagging zeal — and our languor and faint-heartedness — is truly humiliating! A little discourages us — we soon become weary in well-doing. But how indefatigable is our fiendish foe — how fully bent upon the accomplishment of his diabolical designs! His first and second attacks upon the Savior were altogether fruitless; but this did not prevent him from making another trial. It is probable that he reserved what appeared to be the most likely bait until last — with what success we shall soon see.
"Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 'All these things I will give you,' he said, 'if you will bow down and worship me.'" By all the kingdoms here referred to, some understand merely the various provinces of Palestine, it being evident that there was no mountain from which such an unlimited view could be obtained, as the passage in its unqualified signification implies. But it is most probable that nothing more than a visionary representation is intended; for Luke says, "And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time." Now, as this could not have been done literally, it is most reasonable to conclude that the whole was a mere pictorial exhibition.
Be that, however, as it may — what daring effrontery, what blasphemous insolence, did the words contain, "All these thing I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me!" The foul temptation was for the ever blessed Son of God — to bow in prostrate adoration before the great enemy of God and man! No wonder that the impious proposal should be met by our Lord with burning indignation.
The meekness of the Lamb of God, had hitherto permitted the old dragon to proceed with his suggestions; and, although they were firmly resisted, it was with that holy calmness which he usually displayed. But on this occasion, his tone was altered, his countenance was changed, and the withering rebuke was uttered, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only!"
It is not improbable that the form in which the adversary appeared was that of an angel of light, since it is evident that he can transform himself in such a manner. But if he assumed his fairest form to do his foulest deed — the Savior plucked the mask from his face, and left him to stand in his own native deformity — as a hideous and convicted fiend!
The struggle is now over. The Son of God has gained the victory. The seed of the woman, if he has not yet thoroughly bruised, has inflicted a heavy blow upon, the head of the serpent. Never, probably, did he feel so sorely disappointed; never, we may suppose, was his confidence in his own power and skill so completely shaken; and never had he greater reason for suspecting that his enterprise was altogether hopeless, and that his present discomfiture was a pledge of still more serious and decisive defeats.
But let us rejoice, and that with exceeding joy, in our glorious Conqueror. He came to destroy the great destroyer; to defeat him who, by his artful machinations, had overcome so many. He is now a vanquished foe! And, through the might of our triumphant Lord, we, although feebler in ourselves than the bruised reed, shall be enabled successfully to resist the wiles, and quench all the fiery darts, of the wicked one!